The Future of Mobile Connectivity: The Latest 5G News from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Tech Summit
Kicking off Day 1 of Qualcomm’s 2018 Snapdragon Tech Summit is a slew of news about the future of mobile network connectivity: 5G. We’ve been inundated with 5G news this year, so I wouldn’t blame you for tuning out when you read yet another news article about a successful 5G deployment. However, unlike last year’s Snapdragon Tech Summit, we are hearing more concrete plans to roll out commercial 5G networks at this year’s Summit. Here’s what Qualcomm and their partners announced this year and why it should matter to you.
5G in 2019: What to expect
From smartphones to hotspots then automobiles and other electronic devices, 5G connectivity will eventually be brought to many of our existing electronics. The transition will be slow, but we’re finally seeing real progress in making 5G a reality for consumers. Telecommunication carriers, mobile device makers, modem manufacturers, Internet services, and many other industries are collaborating to make 2019 the year of commercial 5G deployment.
Qualcomm’s President, Cristiano Amon, took to the stage to outline how carriers in many regions of the world are preparing to launch their 5G networks. Carriers in North America, Europe, China, Australia/SEA, Japan, and South Korea are planning or have already begun to upgrade their infrastructure. In the United States, for example, all 4 major carriers announced their plans to roll out commercial 5G networks in select cities by early 2019.
Representatives from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and EE in the U.K. came on stage to discuss their respective company’s 5G deployment plans. AT&T announced that mobile 5G would be available in 19 U.S. cities while EE announced their plans to launch their upgraded network in 16 U.K. cities. Yesterday, Sprint announced their plans to launch their mobile 5G network in 9 cities, while both T-Mobile and Verizon have talked about their plans for some time now.
Unfortunately, representatives from the major carriers dodged questions about the cost of 5G access for consumers. Carriers are spending billions of dollars upgrading their network infrastructures, and are obviously expected to recoup their costs by charging consumers a premium for early access. We expect higher costs for early 5G access, but there’s no telling what kind of premium we’ll have to pay. Carriers have admitted that the first 5G smartphones will be carrier exclusives, though, so we’ll likely see the first 5G flagship Android devices be priced out of the range of most consumers.
Verizon today announced that they will launch their first 5G NR hotspot in 2019 with over 2Gbps speeds and sub-10ms latency. The device was designed by Inseego and is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 platform with the Snapdragon X50 modem.
At the event, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Motorola showed off their test devices for 5G connectivity. Qualcomm demonstrated their 5G reference device powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 while Motorola brought the 5G Moto Mod with a Snapdragon 855, Snapdragon X50, and 2,000mAh battery. Samsung also had a reference device on display, though the company plans to launch a commercial 5G smartphone on Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint in the first half of 2019.
Those of you who used early 4G LTE devices such as the HTC Thunderbolt may remember the abysmal battery life of these early devices. Qualcomm and their partners are well aware of the challenges behind implementing the new network technology in mobile devices. Qualcomm’s modems were designed with the power consumption and thermal performance of a mobile device in mind.
Qualcomm’s part in the evolution of 5G has to do with their modem technology: They designed the QTM052 mmWave antenna module and the Snapdragon X50 5G modem. The mmWave antenna module contains a “5G NR radio transceiver, power management integrated circuit (IC), RF front-end components, and a phased antenna array,” according to Qualcomm. 4 QTM052 antenna modules can be paired with the Snapdragon X50 modem to make mobile mmWave viable thanks to technologies like beam forming, beam steering, and beam tracking.
We’ll be seeing commercial devices with the Snapdragon X50 modem and/or the QTM052 mmWave antenna module starting in the first half of 2019.
5G For You: New Possibilities With Faster Speeds
A Need for Speed
For the average consumer, 4G LTE data speeds are the norm. When we lose 4G connection, suddenly our smartphones seem unusable. A combination of higher expectations from our devices and networks as well as more companies embracing feature-rich content in their websites and services has led us to need 4G data speeds at the bare minimum. As existing services venture into employing high-definition augmented/virtual reality and/or volumetric video streaming and new enterprises emerge to deliver unique ways to consume content, there’s a growing need for even faster data speeds.
There’s only so much that existing 4G modem technologies can do to meet this demand—Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon X24 modem promises maximum theoretical download speeds of up to 2Gbps, and can even maintain high speeds on congested networks thanks to a combination of 7X carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO on a maximum of five aggregated LTE carriers, License Assisted Access, FD-MIMO, and other technologies. But 5G-capable modems will be capable of maximum theoretical download speeds of up to 20Gbps—10 times what the current best 4G modem from Qualcomm is capable of. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X50 5G modem is capable of reaching 5Gbps, but improvements are expected as the modem technology matures.
4G, sub-6GHz, and mmWave 5G NR
Just as 4G networks have co-existed with 3G networks, so will the new 5G network co-exist with the existing 4G networks. To understand 5G, you need to know about the different frequencies under consideration. mmWave (millimeter wave) frequencies, which are above 24GHz, allow for incredibly high speeds and low latency, but base stations provide poor coverage distance. Sub-6GHz frequencies provide decent geographical coverage at lower bands, but the throughput won’t be as fast as over mmWave frequencies.
To optimize coverage, carriers will deploy mmWave base stations in densely populated areas while utilizing sub-6GHz for less densely populated regions. Bandwidth will be freed up for existing 4G networks, improving 4G connectivity as users switch to 5G. Devices with the Snapdragon X50 modem provide multi-mode 4G/5G, which will help users deal with the 5G transition as carriers continue building their networks.
More Content, All the Time
Regardless of how long it takes the telecommunications industry to deploy their networks, the future of mobile connectivity is definitely coming and smartphone companies are already preparing for it. OnePlus will release a 5G-capable smartphone next year (though it won’t be the OnePlus 7) and both OPPO and Samsung have plans to release a 5G-enabled device in the first half of 2019. U.S. carriers have begun trialing 5G networks while South Korean carriers already flipped the switch to enable commercial 5G networks in select cities. Consumers upgrading to some new flagship Android smartphones next year will have 5G-capable devices that are ready for the commercial roll-out of 5G networks in their market—and companies, hopping on the 5G excitement, will quickly expand their services with new content to take advantage of the higher data speeds that consumers now have access to.
With even higher data speeds than you’re already used to, you can do things like shop in augmented reality without waiting for a large, high-quality 3D model to download, or you can even stream games from your PC in higher quality than ever before and with far less latency. At the event, Qualcomm, Verizon, and AT&T demonstrated use cases such as high-quality volumetric virtual reality streaming and telemedicine with low latency. These are just some of the use cases that 5G connectivity will enable, but we’ll eventually start seeing individuals and companies come up with new and better ways to consume content on our mobile devices.
Improvements to network speeds both at home and outside enable consumers to connect with each other in ways we would have never imagined years ago, and we’re excited to see what new content categories emerge in 2019 and beyond.
Note: the real-world speeds of the 5G network set up at the Snapdragon Tech Summit didn’t reflect what the companies promise will actually be available during the commercial roll out next year. According to network provider Ericsson speaking to The Verge, the “single 39GHz millimeter wave 5G network here in Maui is currently running at a measly 130-140Mbps.” The reason for the slowness is due to the network only having a bandwidth of 100MHz of the spectrum when commercial mmWave 5G NR should have a bandwidth between 400-800MHz of the >24GHz spectrum. Thus, representatives told The Verge that the demonstrations at the event were representative of new user experiences made possible with 5G and not the peak speeds that we’ll see as consumers.